05/22/2009 12:00AM

John Velazquez to ride Dunkirk


ELMONT, N.Y. - While the jockey status of Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness runner-up Mine that Bird remained in limbo, some other key jockey assignments for the Belmont Stakes were firmed up Friday morning, as John Velazquez will ride Dunkirk and Garrett Gomez has taken the call on Chocolate Candy.

The ownership trio of Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, and Susan Magnier, along with trainer Todd Pletcher, chose Velazquez over Gomez and Edgar Prado, both of whom had ridden Dunkirk previously. Velazquez won the 2007 Belmont for those connections aboard the filly Rags to Riches. Gomez had chosen to ride Pioneerof the Nile over Dunkirk in the Kentucky Derby, but Pletcher said that didn't play a role in the decision to ride Velazquez. Dunkirk finished 11th in the Derby under Prado.

"We didn't look any further other than we were just trying to figure out what our best chance to win the Belmont was,'' Pletcher said. "We got a lot of history with Johnny and have had success in this particular race and success in a lot of other big races. Close call, they're all three great riders.''

Gomez, meanwhile, picked up Chocolate Candy, who finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby. Gomez worked Chocolate Candy six furlongs in 1:13.47 on Monday at Belmont and told his agent, Ron Anderson, that he liked the way the colt finished.

Summer Bird to get blinkers

Summer Bird galloped nearly two miles Friday morning, equipped with blinkers that he will wear for the first time in the Belmont Stakes, trainer Tim Ice said.

"Try to get him up a little bit in the race,'' Ice explained. "I don't want to change his running style, I just want him to be not so far back.''

Summer Bird was 16th in the early stages of the Kentucky Derby, and, despite having to rally seven to eight wide in the stretch, he finished sixth, 13 lengths behind Mine That Bird.

"He got beat a head for fifth by Chocolate Candy and he's proven to be a nice horse,'' Ice said. "We probably could have found an easier spot for him to win, but he sure didn't disgrace himself in there.''

Ice said Summer Bird wore blinkers last weekend when he worked five furlongs in 1:02 at Louisiana Downs before shipping to Belmont earlier this week.